Unlikely Collaboration: The Secret To Success

Trying to describe effective collaboration is a bit like describing true love. You know when you’re in it. It feels wonderful, but it’s hard to describe to anyone outside the relationship. And like love, you can get burned by sexy potential collaborators who don’t play straight.

Unfortunately, such scenarios leave scar tissue that scares many away from potentially amazing future collaboration. Much is lost when you’re afraid to connect. If you’ve been burned, it’s worth understanding why, and trying again.

A Collaboration Success Story

Last week we brought 2 dozen people from 6 competing companies together to discuss common leadership challenges. I contract with all of them to provide customer service. Staying very diligent to the right side of the law (no discussion of contracts, terms and conditions, or competitive secrets), we held a think tank on common leadership concerns.

  • How do you inspire call center reps to care deeply about customers?
  • How do you find time to coach and develop when the queue’s backed up?
  • How do you build better leadership in a young front-line team?
  • How do we leverage technology to communicate more effectively?
  • What can my team do to be more helpful as the “client?”

The passion in the room was palpable. As common frustrations surfaced, competitors shared their leadership best practices, followed by brainstorming and collective planning. Everyone was focused on getting better results and doing the right thing for the customer.

“What if we had a week where we all concentrated on developing our leaders around this difficult challenge.” “What if we you produced inspiring videos to reinforce the vision each month?” On the breaks, leaders would pull me aside and affirm the approach: “This is fantastic, it’s great to know it’s not just us; Everyone’s in the same boat; It’s awesome to collaborate on these challenges.” And my favorite: “No other client of ours ever does this, they should.”

What is True Collaboration?

What made this work? What’s missing when collaborations go South?

Collaboration works when:
  • Vision is bigger than ego
  • Everyone has something to gain
  • The mission is clearly defined
  • Parameters are established
  • Leadership is shared
  • No one keeps score
  • People play by established ground rules
  • Folks takes time to get to know one another as people
  • Strengths are leveraged
  • It’s okay to put on the brakes as needed
  • Dissent is encouraged and accepted
  • Contributions are recognized